A look at four keys for the Bears to beat this week’s opponent.
1. Run the football
While listening to WSCR 670 The Score, I heard a hot topic this week among different hosts about whether you need balance in your offense and if running the football was a necessity to win games and advance in the playoffs. Technically speaking, the answer is no. It’s feasible to win games if your offense is so good that it can pick apart an opposing defense through the air. But, realistically, running the football successfully is the surest way to win games. The Bears have a giant opening this week against a team that gave up 207 yards and 2 touchdowns to San Francisco’s Frank Gore last week. Seattle is known for having one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL and Seahawks fans have caused the most false start penalties for visiting teams leaguewide since their new stadium opened this decade. The best way to neutralize crowd noise and take fans out of the game is by running the football, chewing up the clock, and sustaining long drives. At this point in the season, it’s difficult to assess the Bears’ run game. Is the offensive line bad at run blocking? Is Matt Forte going to live through a sophomore slump? Or has facing two 3-4 defenses — one of which was the second-best run-stopping unit in the league in 2008 — caused the Bears to abandon their “get off the bus running” mentality? We’ll find out this week, but the holes should be there.
2. Take away T.J. Houshmandzadeh
The free agent pickup from the Cincinnati Bengals talked brashly this week about how open he’d get against this Bears secondary. He boldly claimed, “I feel like I’m going to get open every play, every time. I feel I’m going to win 95 percent of the time and they can get the other 5.” The Bears need to shut him down and take him out of the game plan, forcing somebody else to beat them. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck may miss this week’s game and that could mean trouble for Houshmandzadeh. Seneca Wallace is a decent backup, but nothing special and he surely wouldn’t put the fear into this defense. Once again, a strong pass rush will also cut down on the Seahawks’ passing attack and limit what they can do.
3. Win the turnover battle
Lovie Smith has preached turnovers his entire career and they play a particularly vital role to a team’s success. This is especially true on the road when home field advantage rears its ugly head. As evidenced by Week 1’s 4-interception game by Jay Cutler, a raucous crowd can get into the heads of the offense and make it difficult to hear play calls and cadences and that in turn can lead to fumbles and interceptions. For instance, if a receiver expects the ball to be thrown to one spot, but the quarterback is gunning for a different one, that’s a golden opportunity for a defense to pick off a misplaced pass. Field position comes into play with turnovers. The defense can’t be expected to defend a short field if the offense puts them in that predicament.
4. Stop Seattle’s run game and limit long drives
All too often in 2007, the Bears’ run defense got run over and wound up staying on the field too long. Same story last year, but instead of a bad run defense, they had a bad pass defense and teams were moving the ball down the field in bigger chunks. Long drives are not only game-killers, but could be season-killers too. As a game wears on, fatigue will set in for the defense if they remain on the field for too long. And the more tired a defense gets during games, the more fatigued they are later in a season. The Seahawks are currently 13th in the league in running the football, averaging 116.5 yards per game on the ground. However, the majority of those yards came in Week 1 against a very bad Rams team. Last week, the 49ers held starter Julius Jones to 11 yards on 8 carries. If the defense can stop the run and get Wallace — or Hasselbeck, if he plays — to put the ball in the air more, that can lead to turnovers. Not to mention, it’ll keep the defense fresh and put the ball back into the hands of Cutler.